Mental illness and gun violence: Research and policy options
Gun violence is a real problem in the United States – a problem that is more severe than in other well-developed countries. People may ask why, and some might say the issue is psychological. Though there is a wide variety of mental conditions, and some lead to acts of violence, mental illness is in fact less often responsible for gun violence than one might believe. There is a common misconception that travels across countries and intensifies the stigma of people with mental disorders, and so many programs and campaigns addressing the issue of gun violence in the United States focus on factors such as diagnosing perpetrators, or looking at their genetics – which only serves to make the stigma more intense and severe. It is therefore important to take a look at the range of factors that lead to gun violence and a few policy options that could address this problem.
What is mental illness?
Mental health is a subject that has become more and more visible in the last few years, in part because people have become aware of the importance of environment on their mental state and development. At the same time, rapid technological advancements have changed the world as we know it, and adapting to these changes is a challenge. Technology and social media are linked to anxiety and depression.
But how is mental illness defined? It could effectively be defined as: “Something that affects the way you think, behave, and feel.” Appreciating its meaning brings the world a step closer to supporting and understanding those who go through it, and who are often victims of gun violence and not vice versa. About 27% of Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness in a given year – this means about 43.4 million people in the country. It is important to note that, even though this might seem a high number, the rate of mental illnesses in the United States is similar to that in other well-developed countries, with anxiety and depression as two of the most prevalent disorders.
Of course, the severity of a mental illness depends on several factors and can be very varied. There are mental disorders whose symptoms are so severe that they seriously impair and damage everyday, and they are not always the obvious contenders. Though most people have heard about schizophrenia or bipolar disorder as the “worst” psychological illnesses, it is the intensity that makes the difference.
Because people who are mentally ill are often marginalised and rejected, they are vulnerable to being victims of gun violence. They rarely engage in aggressive behaviour, such as mass shootings.
What, then, is making the occurrence of gun violence so high in the US? The answer is easy access to guns.
Gun control in the United States
Gun violence is a major problem in the United States; it kills innocent people every year. Last year, over 19,000 people died as a result of gun violence in the United States alone. A study from 2019 showed that injuries related to guns are the second leading cause of death among children and teens. So it’s not only about adults – it is about children and teens also.
The striking thing is that firearm suicide and homicide rates are much higher than in other high-income countries. Why? Because access to guns is too easy: thousands of stores such as Walmart sell guns, and all that’s needed to get hold of one is to file some papers. There are about 400 million guns in the United States, and it’s not uncommon for owners to have more than just one. (Those interested in learning more can read further details in gun control essay samples.) Everyone can buy their own gun and there are thousands of Americans that possess assault rifles and other firearms.
The topic of gun control, gun violence and their links to mental illness has long been studied by scientists. Because mass shootings are so frequent, youngsters in education and studying psychology or politics have lots of assignments that explore this topic. There is a collection of studies about gun control written by students that can be accessed to read more about the issue. Students that study such sensitive subjects and then engage in writing on gun control have access to a wide variety of studies and statistics themselves, and they highlight some of the most important aspects of gun violence and the factors that lead to it. Research shows that mental illness is rarely among the leading factors that incite and raise the incidence of gun violence.
Mental illnesses and gun violence
The rates of mental illnesses among Americans are similar to other high-income countries. This means that mental illnesses cannot be attributed to race or countries. Many think that mentally ill people are the most violent because they are not able to control their emotions, or because they see or hear things that do not exist, but a look at those responsible for interpersonal violence shows that few of them suffer from severe mental illnesses.
It is important to note that only about 5% of interpersonal acts of violence can be explained by mental illness. This means that 5% of the people who have committed gun violence suffer from a mental illness that interferes with their life and makes them violent. So even in a case where all mentally ill people could be cured, the other 95% of gun attacks remains, not explained or triggered by mental health, and unsolved.
Governments and organisations that aim to reduce gun violence should not look at mental illness as the primary cause of it. Instead, they need to understand the difference between hate and mental illness, as hate is one of the primary causes of gun violence and mass shootings. People want to show that they have power over another group in most cases, so it is important to correctly identify and address the factors that lead to this.
At the same time, there should be an increased effort to reduce firearm suicides and homicides. There are prevention lines on which vulnerable people can call and talk with a therapist, but they need highlighting. It is also imperative that awareness is raised among the general public over the impact of gun ownership. A temporary ban and restructuring could dwindle the gun violence rates.
The editorial unit